Consider this a gauntlet thrown more than a huzzah cheered. Thanks to the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Iran deal brokered by Barack Obama and John Kerry, Tehran has rejected compliance with the JCPOA. After the strike on Qassem Soleimani, Iran announced it would ramp up production of its nuclear materials, eliminating the last shreds of the agreement with its European partners.
That led the UK, France, and Germany to reluctantly and belatedly trigger the dispute mechanism within the JCPOA today. It’s the first step for the E-3 to reimpose sanctions on Iran, which would damage their already-collapsing economy even further:
France, Germany and the U.K. (the E3) in a joint statement informed the EU on Tuesday that they had set off the mechanism, which they say is aimed at saving the deal, also known as the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).
The motion does not reimpose sanctions; rather, it appears to allow the E3 to officially “register our concerns” that Iran is not meeting its commitments under the deal. What concrete consequences the mechanism actually has is unclear.
“We do not accept the argument that Iran is entitled to reduce compliance with the JCPoA,” the statement read. “Iran’s actions are inconsistent with the provisions of the nuclear agreement and have increasingly severe and non-reversible proliferation implications.”
The statement went on to say that the E3 “have therefore been left with no choice, given Iran’s actions, but to register today our concerns that Iran is not meeting its commitments under the JCPoA and to refer this matter to the Joint Commission under the Dispute Resolution Mechanism” set out in the agreement.
That and five bucks will get you a caffé latté at Starbucks, but it demonstrates just how much the Europeans are committed to dealing with the Iranian mullahs. They want stability in the region along with commitments to non-proliferation. In fact, the unity on this point is even more remarkable considering that the UK is presently trying to disentangle itself from the European Union to get control over its trade and security policies. Brexit aside, the European powers are still of one mind on Iran, and not entirely aligned with the mind of Donald Trump.
Few world leaders are as sympatico with Trump than Boris Johnson, of course. The two often praise each other publicly and both have promised the other a magnificent trade deal that will make Brexit pay off handsomely for the UK. Johnson spoke to the BBC about the Iran crisis this morning, offering on the surface praise for Trump’s deal-making abilities. Johnson uses that, however, to goad Trump into coming to the bargaining table rather than using military force and economic sanctions against Tehran.
“If we’re going to get rid of it,” Johnson tells the BBC, “then we need a replacement” — and Johnson challenges Trump to come up with it:
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) January 14, 2020
“We’re going to come under pressure, everybody will say, ‘well you’ve got to get rid of this nuclear deal, the JCPOA,’ that’s what Trump wants. My point to our American friends is, look, somehow or other we’ve got to stop the Iranians acquiring a nuclear weapon, that’s what the JCPOA does, but if we’re going to get rid of it, then we need a replacement,” Johnson told BBC Breakfast on Tuesday. …
“The problem with the agreement is that from the American perspective it’s a flawed agreement, it expires, plus it was negotiated by (former) President Obama and from their point of view it has many, many faults. Well, if we’re going to get rid of it, let’s replace it and let’s replace it with the Trump deal, that’s what we need to see,” he said.
“I think that would be a great way forward. President Trump is a great dealmaker, by his own account and many others, let’s work together to replace the JCPOA and to get the Trump deal instead,” Johnson added.
The criticism here is just below the surface. It’s akin to you broke it, you bought it. Since Trump jettisoned the treaty without considering his partners, it’s now up to him to replace it with something he can support.
The irony of this is that was what Trump appeared to want as well. He said from the start that he wanted to negotiate a new deal, which Iran rejected and about which the E-3 also sounded less than enthusiastic, too. His non-reactions to a series of Iranian provocations were clearly intended to leave the door open to new talks, which the Iranians misinterpreted as a desire to get out. After the attack on the Baghdad embassy and another attack that left a US contractor dead, however, Trump shifted gears dramatically, gambling apparently that the Iranians would either want to talk in the face of American aggression or that the event might destabilize Iran in the short term.
Trump probably still would pursue negotiations, but someone still has to convince the Iranians to show up. Maybe Johnson can convince the E-3 to work a little harder to make that happen.